Dollree Mapp, who challenged a police search of her home, leading to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1961 that extended the “exclusionary rule” protecting citizens from illegal searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment, died Oct. 31 in Conyers, Ga. She was 91.
Her death, which was confirmed to news outlets by her family, was not widely reported until this week. The cause was not disclosed, but she had dementia for many years.
Tough and street savvy, Ms. Mapp spent much of her life on the margins of society and had trouble with the law on several occasions.
On May 23, 1957, plainclothes police officers who were looking for a suspect in a bombing knocked on her door in Cleveland. The explosion a few days earlier had been at the home of a Cleveland gambling figure, Don King, who later went to prison for manslaughter and still later became a well-known boxing promoter.
Ms. Mapp refused to let the officers enter her house without a search warrant.
They returned three hours later. She demanded to see the warrant and then grabbed the paper from an officer’s hand and stuffed it inside her dress.
In the ensuing struggle, an officer retrieved the paper while Ms. Mapp shouted, “Take your hand out of my dress!”
The police searched and ransacked Ms. Mapp’s house, finding what they believed to be gambling paraphernalia and pornography. Ms. Mapp insisted that drawings of nude women and books with such titles as “Memoirs of a Hotel Man” and “Affairs of a Troubadour” belonged to a previous tenant. Nonetheless, she was arrested and taken away in handcuffs.
She was acquitted of the gambling charges but, after only 20 minutes of deliberation, a jury found her guilty of possession of lewd and obscene materials. She was sentenced to one to seven years in prison. A man suspected in the bombing case was set free.
Ms. Mapp lost several appeals before her case, Mapp v. Ohio, was argued before the Supreme Court in March 1961. Much of the legal debate was over whether Ohio’s obscenity law violated the First Amendment.
During deliberations, however, some justices questioned whether the case might present an avenue for revisiting a 1949 decision, Wolf v. Colorado, in which the court declined to extend federal exclusionary protections to the states.
At the time, the court held that the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule — prohibiting the use in court of evidence obtained in a search without a properly executed warrant — applied only to cases brought in federal court. State courts were not legally bound by the precedent.
In June 1961, the Supreme Court overturned Ms. Mapp’s conviction and extended the exclusionary rule beyond the federal courts to state jurisdictions as well.
In writing the memorable majority decision, Justice Tom C. Clark took note of a “right to privacy free from unreasonable state intrusion” and said there was no evidence of a valid search warrant in the Mapp case.
“The state, by admitting evidence unlawfully seized, serves to encourage disobedience to the federal Constitution which it is bound to uphold,” Clark wrote. “Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws, or worse, its disregard of the charter of its own existence.”
Legal scholars and writers later dubbed Ms. Mapp the “Rosa Parks of the Fourth Amendment,” and Mapp v. Ohio has long been recognized as one of the signature achievements of the Warren court.
“It’s had more influence on the Fourth Amendment than any other Supreme Court decision,” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr said Saturday. “No other case comes close.”
Public records concerning Dollree Mapp indicate various places and dates of birth, from 1923 to 1930. According to information her family provided to the Los Angeles Times and the Marshall Project, a news organization covering criminal justice, she was born Oct. 30, 1923, and grew up in Forest, Miss.
She was also known as Dolly or Dollie Mapp.
She had a daughter at 15 and left Mississippi for Cleveland, where she married boxer Jimmy Bivins, a top heavyweight contender in the 1940s and 1950s. Ms. Mapp accused Bivins of beating her, and they were soon divorced.
“I had to leave him or kill him, and I wasn’t ready to kill him,” she told Carolyn Long, the author of “Mapp v. Ohio” (2006).
Ms. Mapp was later engaged to Archie Moore, the longtime light-heavyweight boxing champion. When he called off their wedding, she sued him for breach of promise.
After moving to Queens, Ms. Mapp and a male associate were arrested in 1971 and charged with possession of stolen property and dealing heroin. They were convicted and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
Behind bars, Ms. Mapp worked on issues related to prisoners’ rights and sought to reduce long mandatory sentences for drug offenses. She was released from prison in 1981 after New York Gov. Hugh L. Carey commuted her sentence.
Ms. Mapp later worked for a New York nonprofit agency providing legal assistance to inmates and spoke about her experiences with the courts. Her daughter died in 2002.
Over the years, there have been several challenges to Mapp v. Ohio, including a 2009 Supreme Court case, Herring v. United States, in which the conviction of an Alabama man was upheld even though a search warrant had been improperly issued.
When Ms. Mapp’s case was being argued before the Supreme Court in 1961, Chief Justice Earl Warren asked the Ohio prosecutor where the defendant might be.
No one knew it, but she was right there, quietly watching the proceedings from the back of the courtroom.
“I wanted to stand up and say, ‘Here I am,’ ” Ms. Mapp told the Miami Herald in 1987. “But I didn’t want to interfere with the court.
“It was such an elaborate building and I was sitting there and they were talking about me, and this woman sitting in the front of me realized it, and she said, ‘Are they talking about you?’
“And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘Oh, you poor thing. What a shame.’ ”